Thursday, November 4, 2010

What a Difference A Year Makes

Last year I went to the BCU week/Skills Symposium at Sea Kayak Georgia and had a great time and learned a lot.  But I really hadn't had much experience in big water, and it showed – I was able to paddle in the bigger conditions, but it was a bit forced.  And skills that I'd only been working on for a year were decent, but there were definitely some rough spots.

This year everything was easier.  Did the 3 star assessment the first day with Lamar Hudgens and another candidate and it went well.  The main feedback was more edging in the surf and conditions, which I worked on the rest of the week.  And a good comment:  a good trip leader doesn't get the group out of trouble;  he/she keeps the group from getting into trouble in the first place.

Day 2 was Rescues and Incident Management with Jeff Allen.  Great teacher, nice guy.  The course could have been a 5 day course (and is in Cornwall), and was packed with information.  Lots of acronyms: CLAP (communication, line of sight, avoidance, position), HEET (Human, Equipment, Environmental, Time), SAFE-R  (Stop, assess, formulate a plan, execute the plan, re-evaluate).  Leading from the front, looking back.  Shepherding and linked chains.  Learning one rescue method that always works, and doing it fast from any position, since you may only have a small window of time to get someone out of there.  Some good towing tips.  The difference between a casualty (someone who is actively involved in the rescue) and a victim (someone who is not).  Jeff F. and another paddler were going for 4 star so they were our leaders;  the rest of us had fun being victims and casualties.  Note to self:  never again get so carried away in the role of being a victim and throw expensive paddle away in front of the surf.  (Fortunately, Brad retrieved it.)  

Jeff F. was shepherding someone in through the surf and she capsized and came out of her boat (not a drill).  Jeff pulled up to do a rescue and her tow rope had come out of the bag and was wrapped twice around the boat.  Like they keep saying:  ropes in surf are dangerous.

But as Jeff Allen reminded us, the sea isn't cruel or out to get us, it just is. 

Day 3 was with Gordon Brown.  Funny how you need to learn things more than once.  I know I've heard "when turning in high wind from a beam to the wind position, paddle on the downwind side – forward sweep to turn upwind, reverse sweep to turn downwind" before, but it hadn't sunk in until this time.  

I bailed after one capsize and tried to do a cowboy re-entry;  it didn't work, and afterward Gordon reminded me about staying low and keeping legs and arms out.  You can get away with things in flat water that you can't get away with in the surf.  We also heard there was one dislocated shoulder that day in another class.

Day 4 was with Hadas Feldman, working on linking strokes.  And of course edging.  At the end of the course, everyone did a "dance" with their boat (extra points of you could narrate it;  I did not), and then we paddled back along the edge of the marsh, using our newly learned stroke combinations to hug the shoreline as it wound about.

Day 5 was Intermediate Surf with Dale Williams and Tom Bergh.  I'd gotten a few good rides in Gordon's class, but they felt like blind dumb luck.   During the surf class, I had a breakthrough in feeling comfortable in the surf.  It wasn't huge surf – probably 4 footers, but it was great fun.  Dale reminded us that we can have influence in the surf, but we can never control it.  I tried surfing backwards -- it was interesting to see what's going on on the wave side of the boat.  Learned that in the surf, you edge towards the direction you want to turn, not away (no wonder edging never worked to turn my boat before).  I'm still a newbie and have lots to learn in the surf, but definitely making progress.

And of course all the rest of the week was great too.  Good friends, good weather, seeing folks that I'd met before, making new friends.  Sometimes on the water I'd just sit there for a few minutes and soak in the pure enjoyment of being on the sea, riding the swells, watching flights of pelicans wing their way across the water and flocks of gulls wheel and turn, spotting the occasional dolphin.  Starting to read the surf and tides better.

The week gave me some great feedback on how much I've learned, but it also opened up how much more there is to learn.  4 star once seemed completely inaccessible.  Now it seems like a lot of work, but within the realm of the achievable.  Definitely ready to take the next step and see where it goes.

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